Homily of Father Tomaž Mavrič, CM, Superior General, at the opening Eucharist of the gathering of Vincentian youth (Casa San José de Malambo) prior to the World Youth Day celebration with Pope Francis.
Panamá – 19 January 2019
Mass of the Feast of Saint Vincent de Paul
Readings: Isaiah 52:7-10; 1 Corinthians 1:26-31; 2:1-2; Matthew 5:1-12
My very dear young Vincentians, I am delighted to be with you here today. You have gathered from all over the world to celebrate our Vincentian heritage prior to the events of World Youth Day. I trust that this meeting will be a wonderful experience for you, grounding you in the charism and spirituality of Saint Vincent de Paul. May it mark your life now and forever.
The theme for today is, “The gospel joy of Vincentians”. You will recognize that the first part of this phrase comes from the Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, of our Holy Father, Pope Francis. The organizers of this event want to highlight, from the start, the joy of the Gospel that fills the heart and the life of those who meet Jesus, who allow themselves to be saved by Him, freeing them from sin, sadness, inner emptiness, and isolation. With Jesus, joy is born anew in the lives of all men and women.
The readings we just heard highlight today’s theme. Isaiah emphasizes the beauty and joy that results from sharing the good news with others. Paul reminds us that we are in Christ Jesus because of God’s calling. Jesus Himself teaches us that we are blessed when we live lives that are poor in spirit, gentle, merciful, desirous for what is right and just, and accepting of insults and persecutions.
As Vincentians, I want to encourage you to witness to the joy of the Gospel. Our encounter with Jesus and the freedom that fills our hearts flow from our service on behalf of those persons who are poor. We want to share this joy with the world, to spread it to others. To do so, we not only must encounter Jesus first, but we also have to remain with Him, to walk with Him, to make Him the center of our lives, and to never wander away from Him.
For us as Vincentians, the joy of the Gospel comes from a conviction that, as Vincent de Paul said, we continue the mission of Jesus on earth. We are called to proclaim, through our words and works, that we are at the service of the poor or, in other words, at the service of Jesus Himself. This is evident from Jesus’s own words in the 25th chapter of the gospel according to Matthew, “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers or sisters of mine, you did for me” (25:40).
Isaiah tells us:
How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of the one bringing good news,
Announcing peace, bearing good news,
announcing salvation, saying to Zion,
“Your God is King!”
Listen! Your sentinels raise a cry,
together they shout for joy… (52:7-8a).
Yes, bringing the good news to others through our service is a reason to shout for joy.
In doing so, we are answering Jesus’s invitation to follow Him, to help Him, to be His collaborators on the mission that continues today. Our response should be a loud “Yes,” . Jesus does not abandon us. He gives us all we need in life. He opens for us the doors to Heaven, to eternal life. We respond to Him by getting on board with deeds, example, and words that give witness to the joy that comes from following along the path of Jesus.
Our Holy Father addressed his message for World Mission Sunday this past year specifically to you. Its theme was, “Together with young people, let us bring the Gospel to all.” He said:
You too, young friends, by your baptism have become living members of the Church; together we have received the mission to bring the Gospel to everyone. You are at the threshold of life. To grow in the grace of the faith bestowed on us by the Church’s sacraments plunges us into that great stream of witnesses who, generation after generation, enable the wisdom and experience of older persons to become testimony and encouragement for those looking to the future. …
This transmission of the faith, the heart of the Church’s mission, comes about by the infectiousness of love, where joy and enthusiasm become the expression of a newfound meaning and fulfillment in life. The spread of the faith “by attraction” calls for hearts that are open and expanded by love.
Pope Francis also reminded us that being missionaries helps not just the other person, but also helps us to deepen our own faith. He expressed it this way: Christian faith remains ever young when it is open to the mission that Christ entrusts to us. “Mission revitalizes faith,” in the words of Saint John Paul II. Likewise, by being a missionary, we also do good for ourselves, because the experience opens so many new ways to understand better the other person as well as ourselves.
In the Preparatory Document from last October’s Synod of Bishops, one thought speaks very strongly to our charism: Charity is the preferential place for vocational discernment. It stated:
Social activities and volunteer work provide opportunities for unselfish service. In this regard, meeting with those who are poor and on the margins of society can be a propitious opportunity for spiritual growth and vocational discernment, because, from this vantage point, the poor can teach a lesson, indeed they, in themselves, are bearers of the good news that salvation is experienced in weakness.
It also noted that contact with poverty, vulnerability and need are of great importance on the road to vocational discernment. Through the experience of service on behalf of the poor, Jesus helps us understand and discover our call in life: to married life, to single life, to the consecrated life as a Sister, Brother, Priest.
Last year we celebrated the 400th anniversary of the Vincentian Charism and this year we embarked on the Fifth Century of the Charism. As I mentioned in my letter of last January, we should keep in mind and attempt to deepen two areas:
- our own Vincentian Spirituality and Charism by getting to know better the Saints, Blessed, and Servants of God of the Vincentian Family.
- the Culture of Vocations.
In my letter for the feast of Saint Vincent this past year, I focused on the first of these two areas: that of getting to know better the Saints, Blessed, and Servants of God of the Vincentian Family. I suggested that the various institutions (schools, parishes, etc.) of the various branches of the Vincentian Family could choose a Saint, Blessed or Servant of God in order to become better acquainted with that person’s life and by means of different initiatives make him/her known in their surroundings, that is, in the society in which they live. Through the imitation of these holy people, we can reveal to the larger society that our Vincentian Charism is very much alive.
Throughout the second half of 2018, I also tried to place our focus on another area: renewing the culture of vocations. This was very much in line with the most recent Synod of Bishops whose theme was “Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment.” We hoped too that our Vincentian Film Festival last October would encourage young people to opt for a life of service on behalf of the poor and, perhaps, follow a call to the priesthood or consecrated life. In addition, within the Congregation of the Mission, we sponsored a special ongoing formation program for the Vocational Directors from each of our provinces, regions, and international missions.
As you know, some cultures are favorable to vocations, but many are not. Those cultures that are defined by consumerism, materialism, individualism, egoism, systematic secularization of society, etc. actually promote an “Anti-Culture of Vocations,” making it very difficult to see the beauty, attractiveness, and life-giving meaning of responding to Jesus’s call. Nevertheless, I continue to trust that our efforts in this regard will help us to deepen this culture of vocations. I hope that one day it will be normal for a young person in any society, environment, or country to respond to the call of Jesus with a resounding “Yes.”
Therefore, I launch this appeal to you today. As Saint Paul said in the second reading, “consider your own calling” (1 Corinthians 1:26a). Do you hear Jesus calling you to the priesthood or consecrated life? If so, believe and trust in that call. In doing so, the choice you make will be your best life choice. You cannot go wrong in choosing to follow Jesus. I encourage you to pray, through the intercession of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, Saint Vincent de Paul, Saint Louise de Marillac, and all the Saints, Blessed, and Servants of God of the Vincentian Family for the courage to respond positively to Jesus’s call. Keep in mind, his promise from today’s gospel:
“Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven” (Matthew 5:12).
Tomaž Mavrič, CM